This is the Ukranian Paska, lovely, soft and sweet Easter bread. I came across this bread few years back when searching for traditional recipes. Up until then , my Easter breads were restricted to hot cross buns and no cross buns. Eastern European countries have a wonderful collection of traditions breads for the season. Who wouldn’t want to bake such a lovely bread year after year !
Granted it is huge loaf for today’s average family, but believe it or not the the original recipes called for double or even triple this amount . No worries , this bread keeps well at room temperature for a 2 to 3 days or slice and freeze it for longer storage. Let us not forget that this is a celebratory bread, in other words it is meant to be shared. So slice off a piece and pass it on 🙂
Here is my version of this recipe. A tribute to the wonderful bakers who passed on these recipes generation to generation ..
This bread dough starts out as an enriched sweet dough. Warm the milk to 110°F or just warm to touch. Dissolve 1 teaspoon sugar in it and sprinkle the yeast on top. Set aside for 5 to 10 minutes until the yeast is bubbly. Measure the flour into a large mixing bowl along with salt and sugar. Make a well in the center and break the eggs into it. Give it a gentle stir with a spoon or fork to break the eggs. Add the yeast mixture and slowly start kneading by adding the milk. The dough should be a bit wet and sticky. Keep kneading for a minute or 2 and add the softened butter. Knead in the butter. As you knead the dough develops more gluten and the moisture gets absorbed into the flour resulting in a smooth soft dough. If the dough is still very sticky after 5 minutes into kneading add more flour by tablespoons and knead in.
This is a dough that can expand quite a lot in the oven. The extra moisture in the dough keeps it from drying out in the oven. This dough did give my arms a good workout. If you have a mixer use it . This really is a wet dough. The dough should be ready after about 10 to 15 minutes of kneading by hand (around 7 minutes in the mixer) . Form into a ball and place in a greased bowl . Cover and let rise until doubled , about 1 hour.
Punch down the risen dough. At this point you have several options to shape. Form into loaves or buns of your choice. The more traditional shaping is that of a decorated round loaf. Take a 9 inch spring form pan (with 2″ sides) and lightly oil the bottom and the sides. Divide the dough in half and form one half into a disc and place in the cake pan.
Divide the remaining half into 3 portions and form into long ropes. Create a braid with the ropes and place the braid on top the disc in the pan. The braid should be a little longer than needed create an outer circle. pinch the extra lengths off and create a decorative cross or rosette for the center. Here I have used the extra dough to create a simple knot. Place it in the center . Do not worry if there seems to be gaps. This dough rises really well and all gaps will fill out beautifully while baking.
Cover and let the dough rise until doubled and peeking out from top of the spring form pan. About 15 minutes into the second rise , preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Break an egg and beat with 1 to 2 Tsp water to make an egg wash. Brush the tops of the bread with the egg wash, just before transferring to the oven. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes until done. The bread is done when the internal temperature reaches 200° F (93°C). A quick way to test is to tap the bottom. When done the bread should sound hollow.
A word of caution – this bread tend to rise really tall. If you are working with a small oven you might want to lower the racks. Check in on the bread at around 30 minutes . If it seems to be browning too much, cover the top with an aluminium foil and reduce the oven temperature to 325°F(160°C). In this case you might have to cook it a little longer, but no worries , the added moisture ensure that the bread is still moist.
Here is a slice of this beautiful paska. Try it with a some of my Red Pepper Jelly.